The mayor and commission is calling for leniency on rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
At their meeting on March 31, the commission unanimously passed a resolution calling on local landlords and mortgage holders to take a number of steps in support of tenants and homeowners who may be affected by the current economic shutdown.
For example, the commission is urging landlords to freeze rental rates at current levels, halt evictions, waive late fees, offer payment plans and to remain generally flexible with tenants as the crisis continues. Likewise, mortgage holders are being asked to halt foreclosures, waive late fees, and even freeze interest accrual when necessary for someone to remain in their home. This is in addition to the moratorium on eviction hearings that was already established through April.
Furthermore, the resolution calls on Governor Brian Kemp to use emergency powers to impose a moratorium on rent payments. It also calls on President Donald Trump to impose a moratorium on mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis. The ACC Office of Intergovernmental Relations will deliver the resolution to Kemp and all Athens’ federal representatives.
Athens joins Seattle and other progressive cities across the country in making this request of President Trump.
The resolution was written by Commissioners Mariah Parker and Tim Denson in order to help ensure that “no Athenian is displaced during this crisis,” in Parker’s words. While the intent behind the resolution is clear, residents should be aware that it is not legally binding.
Commissioners Consider Resiliency Package
This comes as part of a wider discussion on how best to provide relief and support to the Athens community. COVID-19 has caused many local businesses to close and unemployment to spike drastically, and it may be even worse here than in surrounding areas. Athens’ economy relies in large part on the service and tourism industries, aspects of which have been almost completely shut down to prevent the spread of the disease.
Manager Blaine Williams has suggested an ACC Resiliency Package with the following components to be decided on by the commission:
- Small Business Revolving Loan Program ($1,000,000)
- Emergency Assistance Program ($750,000)
- Non-Profit Revolving Loan Program ($500,000)
- Resource Distribution Program ($450,000)
- Athens Community Corps ($250,000)
- Neighbors Helping Neighbors program ($50,000)
- Public Utilities Rate Reduction ($3,420,000)
Loans for Small Businesses and Nonprofits
Loans from the Small Business Revolving Loan Program could be used to pay rent, make mortgage payments or for payroll. Eligible businesses would have to have experienced a 25% drop in revenue over the last month and would have a max of 35 full-time employees, but the exact requirements to apply for the program have yet to be finalized by the commission. As it currently stands, interest would be very low, only 1%. Even better, there would be no payments needing to be made or interest charged for a full year.
Nonprofits may also be able to apply for a revolving loan program of their own if approved in the final package. William’s suggestion also includes $750,000 for emergency assistance such as food, help with rent and utilities and shelter for the homeless. Commissioner Ovita Thornton called for increasing the amount of food assistance, but in general praised the relief package. “We are so far ahead of the curve,” she said, making a comparison to nearby counties.
Lowered Water and Sewer Bills
The largest part of the resiliency package is an across-the-board reduction in water and sewer bills, regardless of how much water is used. This part of the package seems to be permanent as well. It was made possible by new automated metering infrastructure that was recently installed. This will help average residents who only use a small amount of water, because a disproportionate part of the monthly bill until now had been in fixed costs.
The commission will vote on the final resiliency package at their regular monthly voting session on April 7.